Thursday, October 19, 2006

North American Martyrs

Today the United States Catholic Church celebrates the Memorial of the North American Martyrs. (The online Catholic Forum offers a list of them with biographies of most of them.) In the 17th Century these Jesuits and their companions came to New France, as the region we call Canada was known. They canoed and portaged their way to the southern edges of Georgian Bay and set up a mission, which they named Ste. Marie among the Hurons. (Enjoy a photographic tour of it; the text is in German.)

Some of them made their way into what is now northern Michigan and into the state of New York. Shrines to their honor were built near Midland, Ontario, and in Auriesville, New York (also the birthplace of Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha).

The Canadian shrine stands across the street from the reconstructed mission of storied St. Marie, which the martyrs and their companions built in 1639. Both the shrine and the "outdoor museum on the Wye River welcome visitors (although the shrine closes for the winter each October). The U.S. shrine in Auriesville closed two years ago. It had earned a place in AAA guidebook and trip-tiks of upstate New York. Drivers would know when they passed by Auriesville as they made their way along the New York Thruway toll road.

The North American Martyrs are the patron saints of Walsh Jesuit High School in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Gesu Parish in University Heights, Ohio, dedicated one of its chapels to them. Their influence is not limited to Canada, New York, Michigan and Ohio.

Jesuit missionaries insisted that evangelizing could be effective if the Jesuits and their companions learned the languages and the cultures of the peoples to whom they had been sent. Their writings inform us about North American homelands and peoples as seen by foreigners for the first time. Their intercession can help contemporary people be more creative, responsible and energetic citizens and ambassadors of good will.

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